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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 7, 2011 1:55pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Before the Warlocks

You may already have seen this, but I thought I'd point out this post -

The blogger wrote a short piece on the "resumes" of what the Warlocks were up to before '65. As is my wont, I added tons of comments with more details...
So it's kind of a disjointed read overall, but for those interested in some early pre-Dead history, it might be worth a look.

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 7, 2011 7:06pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

Well, I thought I'd caught a few dinky errors or gaps that would allow me to demonstrate my vast knowledge of trivia, but dang it, LiA, you caught them all and a lot more! :-)

I actually hadn't realized that Bob had dropped out of high school. I guess I'd assumed the whole "make sure he gets to classes" thing had worked, perhaps because it's so hard to picture parents like Bob's allowing a kid to be a dropout -- even in my time, but certainly today!!! The whole social context sure was different.

I do think that a self-identification as "outlaw/dropout," coming out of the Brando/James Dean era, had a different meaning in the early 60s that was just more connected to bohemianism than it has been for a long time. That goes some of the way towards contextualizing the fascination with the Hell's Angels, which is pretty hard to "get" now. I think there was an anti-status quo aspect linked to the whole idea of being an outlaw/dropout/outsider then; you could even trace it to Huck Finn/the idea of runaways/joining the circus etc.

I'm not sure when or how that changed. Maybe when it became so unthinkable to ever get any sort of job, let alone a good one, without at least a high-school degree (at the bare minimum)! I suppose in today's world they'd have dutifully trooped off to college after a well-scheduled adolescence with all the appropriate interventions, enrichment classes and so on ...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 7, 2011 9:47pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

Thanks for pointing that out, I hadn't read that blog post or your attached comments yet. I'm pretty familiar with the outlines of those stories from reading a lot of the same sources you have used, but some material sourced from interviews was new to me and even if I know the basic facts, LIA and Corry both always do a great job putting things in perspective and making connections I hadn't noticed.

One thing I am reminded of seeing it all drawn together like that is how much the Grateful Dead was, intellectually, a creation of Jerry and Phil, both adults with a decent chunk of life experience who shared a complete revulsion from the ordinary organization of society. Even though part of the Official Mythos of the GD is that Pigpen was the locus of the early band, I think we can perceive that he was pushed into that role because Jerry (and Phil, and the rest) perceived him as having an essential rock & roll authenticity. There is a sense in which Pigpen was a kind of Totemic Icon from the beginning in the band's self-conception. I think everyone knew from the beginning that Jerry and Phil were the "brains" of the band, the ones with ambitious concepts and educated intellects, and Jerry added incredible charisma on top of that.

One can really only fantasize about the kind of rap sessions between Jerry and Phil that must have taken place in late 65 and early 66 when the band's psychic knots were being tied and the geas was being laid on them.

As funny and articulate and insightful as Jerry was in interviews, I suspect that his private persona was about a hundred times as compelling when freed from all the complex representational layers that inevitably exist in everything that reaches the public.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 7, 2011 11:23pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

I think a lot of Jerry's sides barely made it out to the public. We didn't see much of the sarcastic humor that his friends knew. We also didn't see much of the fatalistic negativity of the addict, or the guy who abandoned friends & lovers without a word, or the mean & surly guy he became when on heroin. We also didn't see the guy who'd practice guitar or banjo all day long nonstop, or the guy who memorized poetry, or the guy who'd regale companions with long descriptions of the s-f novels he'd read or movies he'd seen. And we didn't see the guy who could dominate a room & attract people even without a guitar in hand, or the guy who seems to have really enjoyed hanging out with crooks & thugs.
Dave Kemper said, "Jerry was a brilliant mind. He remembered things, and he read a lot, and he loved to talk about what he'd been reading. We would talk about nanotechnology or psychology or how to build a log home or about motorcycles, just everything. Jerry was interested in the most diverse stuff. You could pick any subject, and I guarantee he knew more about it than you did."
Tom Constanten said, "One of the things I miss most about him is his take on things - what he'd think of a new book (he'd probably already have read it), movie, or music... He would have made a great CD-ROM!"
He was actually a pretty private person in some ways, and a lot of the open, agreeable volubility of his interviews actually conceals that...
Marshall Leicester (former bandmate) said, "What often looked like a kind of narcissism on Jerry's part was in fact him being more intense and in a certain way much more ruthless than others. I heard people say that you hadn't been dropped until you'd been dropped by Garcia."
Robert Greenfield (one of his biographers) pointed out, "Jerry had so many different personalities. I don't think anybody close to him understood him. Everybody was a little scared of him. You didn't want to get on Jerry's wrong side, because he could cut you so badly it would take a long time to recover."

Anyway, that's getting off-track!
I have to disagree with your Pigpen theory.
I don't think Pigpen was pushed into being the locus of the band. I side with the traditional story that he was pushed out of it, starting gradually in '67.
You mention that Phil & Jerry were the brainy, ambitious ones...but in the first year or so, that didn't have much to do with the music they played. It's like saying Jerry was the "brains" of the jugband. Listening to the Nov '65 demo, it sounds like their biggest ambition at that point was to imitate the pop hits on the radio! Listening to the earliest '66 material, they're a band devoted mainly to simple blues tunes, with an occasional extended jam thrown in.

Given the R&B-heavy repertoire up through '66, Pigpen could hardly help but dominate. Robert Hunter & David Nelson both observed that he seemed the most "professional" even in the jugband in '64. And if we look at '65, he (along with Kreutzmann) knew the most about what he was doing. Phil had never played bass; Weir was a helpless folkie & Beatles fan in a band that didn't play Beatles covers and not too many folk songs either; Garcia was just picking up electric guitar after years of banjo; all of them were pretty clueless about songwriting. And who in the band was the expert on the blues and R&B songs they mostly played?

Rock Scully saw the big difference between Pigpen & the others at an acid test - I quoted his observations in the blog comments; their manager Jon McIntire also agreed that Pigpen was "the best musician at the beginning;" and here's what Steve Parish (who wasn't there) wrote:
“The first time I hung out with the Pranksters, Kesey pulled out some old 8mm home movies of the acid trips, and I was surprised to see just how central a role Pigpen had played. He was bright-eyed and lucid, and clearly the center of the band. He seemed so confident, like he was really playing, while the other guys were merely young and learning.”
Jerry later said, "Pig was our front man. He was a natural, an old soul. The rest of us were loose wigs, but Pig had it together. He knew instinctively how to work a crowd." And as is often quoted, "Pigpen was the only guy in the band who had any talent when we were starting out... Pigpen is what made the band work."
And Phil has always spoken of Pigpen with the highest respect.
Of course there's some don't-speak-ill-of-the-dead going on here, but when everybody's saying the same thing, I think there's something to it.

Of course the Warlocks were ambitious - to get better, to become popular, to be "successful" in the terms of '65. But their biggest selling point was Pigpen, for some time to come. In Phil's account of late '66, "the show really belonged to Pig" - and it's notable that the October '66 review in Crawdaddy lists 4 or 5 Pigpen songs as the best things the Dead do (at that point, the big jams were mostly in HIS songs) - and it was, of course, his face on their first t-shirt, not Jerry's.
Pretty good for a drunken delinquent... It's also worth noting that when they were all zonked on acid in the early shows - Pigpen, of course, wasn't, so he became the "focus" of the show in another sense as the others knew they could rely on him to keep the rhythm & know where he was in the music. Weir & Garcia both mentioned how important his steady presence was: "He was our anchor. We'd be out of our minds...and we'd be tethered to Pigpen."

But this early Pigpen-centered phase was short-lived, as in '67 Jerry & Phil started being able to realize new musical ambitions.
I think the Dead in the sense you're thinking of, as a creation of Phil & Jerry, started in '67 - after they had played long enough to really be able to get past the R&B, and after they started to get really proficient at jamming. It was right after the first album when Phil wrote New Potato, and shortly after that when they started doing the Alligator jam - huge steps for the band.
I think there's a lot of hindsight in Phil's account of the early days in his book. While he may have seen the Warlocks as a prospective jazz-type band that could "go out," and waxed rhapsodic about the "group mind," it took a long time before they could get there, and Pigpen helped them along the way.

So if it's your feeling that Pigpen's role as Iconic Totem was just a later invention of the have a lot to prove!

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Aug 8, 2011 1:38am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

>You mention that Phil & Jerry were the brainy, ambitious ones...but in the first year or so, that didn't have much to do with the music they played.

Yeah, as usual, I didn't really make the intended context of what I was saying clear. I wasn't talking about the music as much as the "concept" of the band, the sense of Higher Purpose, and I also didn't mean at all that Pigpen's role was a "later invention" - the aspect I think of as Totemic was there from the very beginning.

One of the things that interests me in the early history of the band is the disjunction between the "psychedelic spiritualism" that was crystallized (according to numerous interviews and commentators) by the Acid Tests, and the actual content of the music being played! Apparently by early 66 it was clear to several people in the band they were involved in something a lot more "important" than just another pop band, but as you say, the music doesn't really communicate that.

In other words, the crazy plasticity of the Acid Tests, the sense of freedom and openness was there for the band on a mental level from the beginning, and the process of making the music reflect that kind of higher consciousness took several years. I think in early 66, there were probably a lot of Really Heavy Rap Sessions that focused on Jerry and Phil, and their acid-test inspired idea that the music and performances of the band could be something Totally Far Out. I think we know that Pigpen didn't share that kind of acid fueled vision! That's why I invoked the concept of a "Totem" - Pig's blues and his personality functioned as a focal point. Random wikipedia quote:

"These animals act as guides, surfacing in our lives depending on where we head and what we need at a given moment. One of those animals in particular is said to be your "totem animal;" it is the animal that is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world."

That kind of language and idea actually reminds me very much of the summary quote you provided: "He was our anchor. We'd be out of our minds...and we'd be tethered to Pigpen."

In other words, Pigpen was definitely the musical leader of the band, but not the one who set the band's purpose and direction in the social and ideological sense.

Very much agreed about all the aspects of Garcia you comment on - I think a lot of the aspects of his character that seem more negative can be summed up by the fact that he had no patience for anything he regarded as an uncool hassle, and he was so talented and brilliant that he was actually able to make it through life without being forced to do anything he didn't want to, at least up until the last few years of stadium touring. Hedonism and selfishness are pretty blatant in some aspects of his addictions and relationships.

[Random Note: Within the context of how famous and successful people behave, I think Jerry did much, much better than average. Most human beings are not good at self-regulation in the face of all possible temptations. Jerry (and for that matter the rest of the GD) were certainly not any kind of flawless spiritual beings, but in comparison to sociopathic personalities like Wagner or Toscanini they all come off very well.]

The immense intelligence that Jerry possessed is really significant, the term "genius" is always overused but I think it is clear Jerry was not only a musical genius, but also a conceptual and conversational genius. (I am extremely verbal and non-visual so I can't really judge his visual art, I think people regard him as genuinely talented in that area, although he obviously didn't have much time to do more than dabble.)

I think (and now I'm getting a bit speculative!) that improvisational skill in music has quite a bit of overlap with verbal dexterity - there is an even an overlap of vocabulary, we speak of musical "phrases" and "sentences" and "paragraphs". Listening to Jerry's fluid lines is, for me, very much like listening to a brilliant speaker, elegantly moving from idea to idea with great wit and spirit. Jerry talked about part of the key to the band's approach being "conversational".

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 8, 2011 11:54am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

I think we can summarize that the Grateful Dead didn't spring out full-blown like Athena in 1965... When the Warlocks started, the main ambition was probably to "have fun and not have to work!"

Even aside from musical proficiency, a few outside things had to happen - the Acid Tests in Dec '65, for one, probably changed their whole idea of how they could play and what they could be.
And around the same time, a new dance scene was created in San Francisco which had barely existed before, so they found a supportive environment of fellow freaks & dropouts... (When they tried staying in Los Angeles in early '66, by contrast, they had great trouble finding anyplace to play, and apparently attracted no audience.)
In '66 they also started the "communal living" idea, which might not have affected the music much, but did alter their self-conception. (And I might add, the first time they all lived together, it was under Bear's control.)

And then there was the success of the "hippie scene," that ensured stability for at least a couple years. As a counterfactual, imagine if the "hippies" had been no more of a social phenomenon than the Beats, and were just a meager number of social misfits scattered in a few clubs without drawing much popular attention or new converts. Lesh and Garcia had been in the Beat crowd, and had spent years living hand-to-mouth, unable to find any stable music scene outside some folk clubs. The Dead, in a sense, had to wait for society to catch up before they could exist.

On tapes, not much of this social side comes across... We can tell by early '66 that they're already trying the longform jam - whether they'd done this much before the Acid Tests, or whether it was an idea born in the acid haze, it's hard to say. (The R&B bands that Pigpen emulated would have similarly played out long grooves for dancers at live shows, though without making the lead guitar the central focus like the Dead did.)
At any rate, the number of rock bands doing long jams in '66 was fairly small, so the Dead were already putting themselves on the cutting-edge in one respect. As far as songwriting, they were way behind! - mostly unoriginal, derivative efforts until '67. Jefferson Airplane was more popular among the SF crowds in '66 (as they would be for years), and did somewhat straighter pop/rock than the Dead did.
The Dead got a lot of social cachet from being an Acid Test band, so were known early on as a 'psychedelic experience' - and I think the sense of communion with the audience started here, as like-minded acid-freaks swarmed to see repeated Dead shows.

And the sense that the vibe of the concert doesn't translate to tape is nowhere more true than in '66. The music from early '66 doesn't sound life-changing; it's often plumb pitiful. And yet people like Bear were so awed by the music they heard at the acid tests, they immediately signed on. It must have sounded pretty different from the other live stuff going on.

Outside San Francisco, it was harder for the Dead to find support... When they did travel to far-off cities, it was often to find themselves playing to small & unreceptive crowds wondering who these hairy freaks from San Francisco were. Phil talks about the trip to Vancouver in July 66 - "We played one of the worst performances I can remember...they just didn't seem to get it up there." When the band went to Toronto in August '67, they also thought they played terribly (and blamed Weir)...

Ken Kesey has an interesting comment:
"Garcia was as well-read as anybody I'd ever met. He understood Martin Buber's I And Thou and that he was in a relationship with his audience. He was not playing at them, he was playing with them. Anybody who's been on acid and has felt Garcia reach in there and touch them, all of a sudden they realize, 'He's not only moving my mind; my mind is moving him!' You'd look up there and see Garcia's face light up as he felt that come back from somebody. It was a rare and marvelous thing. Whereas [other rock bands] were playing at you...the audience were playing the Dead. Which meant the Dead didn't have to be the leaders; they could let the audience play them."

Compare that to Tom Constanten, first seeing the Warlocks pre-Acid Tests in 1965:
"I saw one of the Warlocks shows at the In Room in Redwood City... I was one of about twelve people in the audience. Let me say charitably that the room could have held more... Jerry was doing Roly Poly, Do You Believe in Magic, and other songs like that. Did people listen? When there are twelve people, you can't tell. It seemed everybody was listening. It was like one of those Danish film festival theaters. When you're there and there are six or seven other people in the whole theater, you don't want to profess too much curiosity about everybody else."

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Poster: reviewr Date: Aug 7, 2011 7:57pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

It has been several years since I read Phil's book, but I think he says Bob did graduate HS. I know Phil talks about how Bob's mom asked some members of the band to help to get him through school because he was missing so much due to playing with the band. I think I remember that the older guys would get him home in time for class.

Also, I just finished reading Keith Richards book, so that is fresh in my mind. He didn't say anything about working at the post office.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Aug 7, 2011 8:25pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

Phil does talk about how the band tried to get Weir to school in the mornings... (I quoted it in one of my comments.) That was in the fall of '65. Phil's a little misleading because he forgets to mention that their efforts soon failed!

Weir would have graduated in June '66.
Now, do you really think Weir was still going to high school in 1966? Like, when the band went down to Los Angeles for a couple months? I can just see him buried in a textbook when they were having their Olompali orgies...
No way. I'm sure after the first acid test, if not well before, Weir's schooldays were done.

To put things in context, I think Weir made it farther through high school than Garcia did - plus, his high school friends proved to be of great help to the new band who needed places to practice, word of mouth, etc.

The band did boast one high school graduate, though (Kreutzmann, class of '65), and one genuine college dropout (Phil) - so they had a few educational credentials, in case they needed to, you know, find Los Angeles on a map or something...

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Aug 7, 2011 8:52pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

Of course! (Hits self on head with icecream cone.) I was thinking he'd have been class of '65, but of course that doesn't make sense with the Warlocks timeline or his b-day, even.

But I dunno ... perhaps Weir or his parents could have talked them into taking an alternative approach to the awarding of those last few credits ... Music Independent Study? Geography of California? Experiential Chemistry?

This post was modified by AltheaRose on 2011-08-08 03:52:26

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Poster: deadjunkie Date: Aug 7, 2011 11:08pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Before the Warlocks

Here's Phil before the Warlocks...